Is It What You Have Done Or What You Can Do?

One of the biggest challenges in selling professional services is dealing with buyers’ preconceptions of who is best qualified to help them. It seems most buyers want to find something more than someone who has done it before. They want to know that you:

  1. Understand their business, and;
  2. have solved this problem for someone just like them.

They are looking for industry expertise. But sometimes there’s a gap between what the customer wants and what the customer needs. How important is industry experience in the buying decision?

I started in technology years ago on Wall Street. It was the beginning of a long career in Information Technology, but I didn’t realize the edge it would give me in the future providing technology services to the Financial Services industry. There were many jobs I was able to win because my answer to “do you have financial services experience?” was yes. Was I the best person for the job or was it simply a comfort level that I was more likely to be the best person for the job?

Consider these two anecdotes based on actual events:

Yes, But Do You Know MY Business?

I had a conversation with a friend in the M&A business – we’ll call him Marty. Marty typically represents people looking to sell a business. He related a recent interaction with a prospect which went something like this:

Marty: “So tell me about your business”

Prospect: “We manufacture crayons. Do have any experience in that industry?”

Marty: “Yes. We recently brokered the sale of a crayon manufacturer.”

Prospect: “Oh, well we manufacture green crayons. I really want to find someone who’s worked with a green crayon manufacturer.”

Marty: “This company was a blue crayon manufacturer”

Prospect: “Oh….”

…and then the awkward point where there is gap between the prospect’s expectations and your perceived expertise.

You’re Smart. You’ll Figure It Out.

I had another conversation, this one was with a friend who is a management consultant focusing on operations. We’ll call her Felicia.

Client: “We need some patent work done. Can you take care of it for us?”

Felicia: “I really don’t know too much about it. Shouldn’t we get a patent expert?”

Client: “I know you don’t really have the expertise. But I also know you’ll figure it out and get it done.”

Felicia: “Oh…”

And, of course, she got it done. I call this screwing up in reverse – your clients have so much faith in your abilities that they are willing to let it trump specific expertise.

So What Does The Customer Really Want?

If you’ve been in professional services long enough you’ve probably experienced both of these scenarios. They are extreme cases but they point out some of the challenges we face. Prospects and clients consider many factors in making a buying decision. But what is the most important? When prospects ask for “industry experience”, what are they really asking?

Simple answer? Trust.

It All Boils Down To Trust

What single factor do buying decisions really turn on? Trust. Trust is what a prospect shows when he decides you are the right person to solve his problem. Now we’re not necessarily talking “close your eyes, fall backwards, and I’ll catch you” trust. There are varying trust levels required for different types of engagements.

What trust level do you need in the person fixing your car versus the person handling your multi-million dollar M&A transaction? And it’s not just about the value of the transaction. You might easily sign a high-value building maintenance contract based on good references, but agonize over which nursery school to entrust with your children.

How Do You Develop Trust?

The three keys to developing trust? I call them PET: Proactivity, Engagement and Transparency.

  • Be Proactive. Take the time to learn about your prospects and clients businesses. Show them you’re genuinely interested and you can easily get up to speed on their industry.
  • Be Engaging. How you respond to questions, how you interact, is far more important than anything you had planned to say when you walked in the door.
  • Be Transparent. Make it easy for prospects and clients to vet your expertise.
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